Clash of cultures

Clash of cultures

More DVMs may be drawn into the rising battle against dog fighting
Aug 01, 2007
By staff

The widely separate worlds of veterinary medicine and dog fighting might be about to collide.

It could happen sooner than many DVMs think — if dog fighting continues to charge headlong into the public arena the way it has recently.

Last month's federal indictment of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and three associates on dog-fighting charges shines a huge spotlight on the illegal "gaming" activity that until lately confined itself mostly to well-hidden rural venues at odd hours.

Now it's also spilling into the streets of major cities, sometimes in broad daylight. And it's no longer chiefly a southern phenomenon, but occurs in all parts of the country, according to those trying to muzzle it.

All of this raises the odds that veterinarians who never expected it might someday find themselves drawn into the jaws of a dog-fighting investigation.

It could happen in one of two ways: by treating a dog they strongly suspect was injured in an illegal fight and reporting it, or by giving expert advice or testimony to aid law enforcement.

"Dog fighting is everywhere now. There's no part of the country that hasn't been touched by it," says John Goodwin, deputy manager of the Humane Society of the United States' (HSUS) Animal Cruelty Campaign, who has been present at numerous dog-fight raids.

Most of the increase is driven by street-gang culture, Goodwin believes, "where violence is basically a way of life."

While most veterinarians aren't likely to be drawn into a case until someone presents an animal that appears to have been injured in a staged fight, some have joined forces with animal-welfare groups like the HSUS or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) or are pro-active on their own in some way to assist law enforcement.

One of the latter is Kelli K. Ferris, DVM, an assistant professor of community practice at North Carolina State's College of Veterinary Medicine who also teaches a course in animal cruelty. She has provided advice and testimony to law enforcement in several dog-fighting investigations around her state and agrees with Goodwin that street fighting accounts for most of the growth.

"Although there are many professional fighters around, there are so many pick-up dog fights on the streets anymore," Ferris says. "They're loosely organized. Sometimes gang members just walk their (fight) dogs around until they meet someone else with a dog, place their bets and let the dogs go at each other. If the police show up, they will claim the dogs got into an ordinary fight while they were out for a walk."

One of the most recent urban raids occurred July 5 in a neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, where police arrested three people, rescued eight pit bulls and shot to death a ninth when it attacked an officer. The site was a home where dogs allegedly were being bred and trained for street fights.

It is the high-profile Vick case, however, that has done the most to bring the shadowy world of dog fighting into the public eye.

A federal grand jury in Richmond, Va., indicted him and three other men July 17 on charges of competitive dogfighting and operating across state lines. The indictment alleged that Vick attended fights at a property he owns in rural Surrey County, Va., where authorities conducting an April drug raid found nearly 60 dogs, blood-stained carpet and equipment of the type used in dog fighting. It charges Vick paid off bets when his dogs lost, and was involved with two of the other men in executing "approximately eight dogs that didn't perform well" during "testing," killing them by "hanging, drowning and/or slamming at least one dog's body to the ground." One dog that lost a fight allegedly was electrocuted.

The indictment accuses the men of using the property as the "main staging area for housing and training the pit bulls involved in the dog-fighting venture and hosting dog fights."

Vick, 27, a registered dog breeder, denied involvement from the outset of the probe, saying he rarely visited the house that was occupied by his cousin.